Water in the Valley of Fire
How the Nevada Department of Wildlife manages one of the state’s largest bighorn sheep populations.
By Joe Bennett, Game Division Southern Region Supervisor
Nevada is the driest state in the nation and has been experiencing exceptional drought the last two years. In 2021, the Department hauled more than 44,000 gallons to Hunt Unit 268 alone and more than 150,000 gallons of water to southern Nevada since October 2020. It is not difficult to imagine that when you average 180 gallons per bucket—with helicopter costs per hour ranging from $800-2,200 per hour—this is an expensive endeavor. These water hauls would not be possible without sportsmen and women’s contributions through the tag application process, license sales, and purchasing of equipment that contribute to Pittman-Robertson funds. In addition, direct contributions from our non-governmental organization community play a critical role in the department conducting these efforts.
One particular area of note is Valley of Fire in southern Nevada, where some of Nevada’s largest and most resilient herds of desert bighorn sheep live. With summer temperatures regularly reaching more than 100 degrees, these herds need all the help they can get when it comes to water, prompting the Department to construct a permanent water source for the thirsty herds.
LESSENING THE BURDEN
The challenges of hauling water prompted the department to think of innovative ways to adaptively manage the bighorn sheep population in Unit 268 and decrease our water liability. One way was to work with state lands and the Fraternity of Desert Bighorn Sheep to install a permanent water source near the Beehive Group Use Area within Valley of Fire State Park. The water source is unique in the fact that the Department tied directly into the parks water line. The project will provide 4,600 gallons of water on site for years to come, relieving pressure from nearby remote water projects. This project will not only serve as a vital water source to provide sheep for more traditional users into the future, it will also provide a unique opportunity for wildlife viewing and park visitors to experience bighorn sheep in their natural habitat.
It is also important to note that all wildlife benefit from water developments. Everything from ringtail cats, to eagles, to bats utilize water-development projects. Water consumption is estimated at 1.25 gallons per day in the height of summer for a bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert, showing just how vital this precious resource is to the survival of these desert animals.
THE WORK CONTINUES
Now that the water development is completed, and a plan is set forth regarding water hauls in Unit 268, NDOW staff can reflect on what this project means for our constituents.
This new water development was named after one of the founding members of the Fraternity of Desert Bighorn Sheep, Eddie Pribyl, and his family. Once the project was concluded after a long day’s work, the fraternity hosted a dinner at the camp site. It was a sentiment to everyone’s passion for the conservation of bighorn sheep as emotions flowed through the crowd once the stories and speeches began. Without the countless hours that our volunteers donate on these projects that can be used as in-kind match, much of the work we conduct in this unit would not be possible.
Thank you to everyone who participates in traditional and nontraditional wildlife recreation. It’s projects like these that really make an impact on both hunting and wildlife viewing in the Silver State.